Paper tiger

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A paper tiger is something that seems menacing but when challenged, is weak and ineffectual. The term paper tiger is a Chinese idiom, zhǐlǎohǔ. This idiom was popularized in the Western world with the translation of The Little Red Book in 1964, a book of quotations of Chairman Mao Zedong. The term is used in The Little Red Book assertion, Imperialism and All Reactionaries Are Paper Tigers. Zedong had used the phrase in an interview in 1946 to describe the United States: “In appearance it is very powerful but in reality it is nothing to be afraid of; it is a paper tiger. Outwardly a tiger, it is made of paper, unable to withstand the wind and the rain. I believe that it is nothing but a paper tiger.”  Sir John F. Davis is credited with being the first Westerner to translate zhǐlǎohǔ into English in his 1836 book The Chinese.


“States have been the only cop on the beat—the EPA has been a paper tiger, certainly since 1991,” said Faber. (The Atlantic)

How would the West have conducted itself during the Cold War had it known in 1945, 1970 or even 1985 what we know now – that the Soviet Union was a paper tiger that disguised internal weakness and defense shortcomings with extravagant expenditures on the arms race, aggressive posturing and obsessive focus on propaganda abroad? (The Jerusalem Post)

Asserting that taxi hailing apps like Ola and Uber must comply with its norms, RBI today said it is not a “paper tiger” and will enforce all regulations irrespective of whether they are “good, bad or ugly”. (The Times of India)

Khan also said that he won’t be bound by the constraints of working under a system set up by aldermen that limited how much he could say, just as it limits city Inspector General Joseph Ferguson, who earlier this year took over Khan’s duties with a bit more power than Khan had in an office widely viewed as a paper tiger. (The Chicago Tribune)